‘My goddaughter was at Kyiv hospital for chemo when Russia’s rockets hit’

KYIV – Before Vladimir Putin‘s illegal and vicious full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Dasha Nasakina lived a peaceful life with her parents and her godmother, Olena Barkova, in Poltava, a city in the country’s east.

As a baby she and her mother, Valentina, had already been forced to leave their home near Mariupol in 2015 after it was destroyed by Russian forces following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea a year earlier.

As if her young life had not been tough enough already, 10-year-old Dasha was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia in February this year and has spent much of her time since in the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv.

When Valentina first heard the news of her daughter’s devastating illness, she suffered what was diagnosed as a hypertensive crisis and Olena was given legal responsibility for Dasha.

On Monday morning, Dasha was about to begin her fourth block of high-dose chemotherapy with Olena, who escaped Mariupol with her two young children, by her side. Then the hypersonic missiles struck.

Dasha Barkova in Kyiv's Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital awaiting her chemotherapy in the moments after the Russian missile attack (Photo: Supplied)
Dasha, 10, in Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital awaiting her chemotherapy in the moments after the Russian missile attack

The biggest Russian attack on Ukraine for quite some time killed at least 41 people and wounded more than 150.

“It was around ten in the morning,” Olena says. “We were just in the ward at the moment the rockets hit, and the ceiling started to collapse.

“All I managed to do was cover Dasha with myself. She was sleeping at that moment when the ceiling began to fall on her and the bed began to shake.

“After the hell of Mariupol, I already had an automatic reaction that I should cover my children with myself. It doesn’t matter what happens to me.

10-year-old Dasha waiting for her chemotherapy treatment with her godmother Olena at the Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital in Kyiv (Photo: Supplied)
Dasha waiting for her chemotherapy treatment with her godmother, Olena, at the Kyiv hospital

“I lost relatives in Mariupol, so life is above all else for me, especially the children.”

They survived, but there was no escape.

As rescue workers dug through the rubble for survivors, Dasha’s radiotherapy and that of other critically ill children was administered outside amid the destruction.

No staff left the scene. They did what they could to keep Dasha and hundreds of other children alive.

“I always believed that the Okhmatdyt hospital was the safest place in Kyiv, because it is a hospital, and also with children. It is sacred. Because they are children,” Olena adds. “But it turns out that nothing is sacred for our neighbour Russia.

Dasha and other children had to get their treatment in the street outside the hospital following the missile strikes (Photo: Supplied)
Dasha and other children had to be treated in the street outside the hospital following the missile strikes

“After the strike, the medical staff started running around the hospital. They were all covered in shrapnel, and many were wounded. Fire and smoke was everywhere. Everything was falling and flying around.

“Dasha could not take her medicine on time, and this is the most important thing during the course of chemotherapy.

“By this time we had been sent to the first floor, which is underground. Despite their injuries, medical staff continued to save the children, and after the sirens stopped we were taken outside into the street.

“The doctors and nurses washed all the catheters and attached them to the children again. The staff were just incredible. They not only grabbed children, they carried all the drugs and equipment they could.”

Olena says she does not know how Dasha will respond to the attack, explaining that she was, like many of the other children, “shaking and feverish” in the hours after the missiles struck.

Hospital staff and local residents help in the search and rescue operation among the rubble of the Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital, in Kyiv (Photo: Kyiv Military Administration/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Hospital staff and local residents help in the search and rescue operation among the rubble of the country’s largest children’s hospital (Photo: Kyiv military administration/Anadolu via Getty Images)

“One of the factors of oncology is stress, and today’s attack could mean Dasha has a relapse,” she said.

“For me, the most important thing now is that the children are alive. I have such terrible déjà vu after Mariupol that it is difficult to explain today’s events.”

On Tuesday, Ukraine announced a day of mourning. Officials have prohibited entertainment events and lowered flags on public buildings.

Kyiv’s military authorities said 27 people had died in the capital, including three children, and 82 were wounded after 38 ballistic and hypersonic missiles were fired on the Ukrainian capital.

The explosions at the hospital could be seen right across the Kyiv region (Photo: Oleksandr Magula/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC UA:PBC/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
The explosions at the hospital could be seen right across the Kyiv region (Photo: Oleksandr Magula/Suspilne Ukraine/JSCUA:PBC/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

As of Monday evening, officials in Kyiv said that two adults were killed in the attack on Okhmatdyt hospital. Rescuers worked through the night and more casualties may be found amid the rubble.

The daylight attacks included Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, one of the most advanced Russian weapons that travel at ten times the speed of sound, making them incredibly hard to intercept.

These weapons were targeted at Ukraine’s equivalent of Great Ormond Street in London – the country’s largest children’s hospital that has, as President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “been saving and restoring the health of thousands of children”.

When the power was lost, Olena could not contact Dasha’s mother or father for hours and knew they would have seen the attack on television.

“It was very scary,” says Olena. “You cannot tell your relatives about your condition and you do not know what is happening on the street.

“When there was an internet connection on the street, I wrote to Dasha’s mother to tell her we were alive.

“I made a promise to God and her parents to protect Dasha, and now I am trying to do it.

“I really want her to recover, because I have seen how this child suffers from the disease. I don’t understand how it is possible to bring this hell on these children.

“I want to call on the whole civilised world to help us stop this hell. I really believe that they will support us.

“That they will help us stop the evil of Russia.”